Taking a Strategic Approach

Media organizations aren’t likely—or well-advised—to tackle the world as they pursue global content distribution. “Finding mission-critical targets in other territories” is an important starting point, Resnick notes. “Taking on the whole world seems like a crazy endeavor. But if I’m a business owner of a magazine and I’m looking to go global, I’m going to try to find key targets first—the largest marketplaces where those types of interests exist.”

With much of his work, Resnick?says, he takes a FIGS approach: French, Italian, German, and Spanish. There are large populations involved. The variations among the populations aren’t quite as significant as they are in, for example, India. “There’s a lot of information out there about how to approach these cultures—we don’t have to reinvent the wheel.”

Abel agrees: “My advice is it pays to start small, have a strategy that really maps out your goals that are measurable and achievable, and make sure you’re able to achieve them. Then optimize when you figure out all the things that went wrong, and go back and fix them. Do one, learn, optimize, and then go back.”

When moving forward with a global strategy, Herrmann recommends that media companies focus on three major building blocks:

  • First, simplicity. The digital space, he admits, is complex. But ?Herrmann says, “Digital complexity does not have to be translated into complexity for customers or users.”
  • Second, embrace automation. Whenever there is an opportunity to embrace or leverage automation, Herrmann says, content providers should be taking advantage of it. But he adds, “Automation shouldn’t be considered as something that is going to solve every issue; it has to be used wisely, but there are areas where automation can bring a lot of benefit and value to both companies and customers.”
  • The third building block is centricity. “That means delivering experiences that are really natural—that are really actionable for customers in all markets.”

Centricity, says Herrmann, requires a focus on three things: linguistics, functional relevance, and cultural relevance. Most people, he states, are aware of both linguistics and cultural relevance. Functional relevance, though, is often overlooked. He views functional relevance as the local, digital ecosystems that will make content work in specific markets.

Farrell McManus is the VP of publishing with MPP Global, a technology provider with headquarters in the U.K. that has worked with media companies such as the Daily Mail, The Times, The Daily Telegraph, and Local Media Group to help them monetize their digital content globally through a cloud-based platform. “As a technology provider, we have a solution that is designed specifically for media publishing,” says McManus. “We eat and breathe publishing digital media and video.”

McManus points to the Daily Mail as a media company that is handling the globalization of its content very well. He adds, “Somebody we admire, but don’t work with, is POLITICO in the EU [European Union]. They took something that was very much a U.S.-specific brand, an outgrowth of The Washington Post focused on U.S. politics and the U.S., and have really had a successful launch so far in the EU. They’re creating great local content behind what is becoming an international brand.”

Technology is a big driver behind successful globalization of content. Once a strategy is in place, organizations need to find the right technology partner—or partners—to work with. It’s often a multi-pronged approach to bring together the right players to successfully achieve objectives, McManus says. “When people work with us, they tend to go through a fairly exhaustive process, also bringing in two or three other technology companies that may be similar to us and then putting us all through our paces to make sure they have the right partner that will match their culture and their strategy.” It’s imperative, he says, to consider whether potential partners will be able to help the company grow and scale.

But technology is not enough to tackle the most foundational element of successful content globalization.

Best Practices

Media companies wishing to successfully expand globally must thoroughly understand their desired target audiences, says Herrmann. It’s really the same process that any marketer or communicator would (or should) go through with any audience. But when dealing with issues across geographical boundaries, it’s even more important—and more challenging. Media companies that excel at this—Herrmann points to Netflix, The Walt Disney Co., and CNN as examples—spend a lot of time and money to really understand their international customers. “They leverage data, insight, and information,” he says, to understand the often subtle nuances that can exist, for instance, in different Latin markets—the differences between Mexico and Chile, for example.

The second best practice he points to is creating content that is initially as global as possible and then localizing it for each identified market. “They create content that is as internationally centric as possible—not U.S.-centric or Germany-centric. When Netflix creates their own content, they do that with some things in mind that shouldn’t be too geo-centric, so that any market can really enjoy that type of entertainment.” 

McManus also points to the incredibly controversial Breitbart—known chiefly for its inflammatory articles and role in getting Donald Trump elected—as a media organization to watch. “They’re going full steam into Europe to set up small bureaus there. They’re launching in France, Germany, and elsewhere because they believe that they have a unique website with a point of view.” McManus notes upcoming high-stakes elections in both France and Germany that will provide a potential opportunity for Breitbart to further grow its brand—which will, no doubt, be alarming to many after the executive chair of Breitbart News became Trump’s chief strategist on the campaign trail and a senior counselor to the president.

But media companies don’t tend to take to effective globalization of content naturally, says Abel. He suggests they look to best practices from a not-so-obvious source: technical communicators who work for companies that sell products around the globe (computer companies, for instance). Technology firms must translate instructions and service-related communications into different languages for those buying the products globally, notes Abel. “Technical communicators have had to do this for a long time,” he says. Then, people based locally have to use the documentation to fix something, overcome challenges, or troubleshoot. It’s a model that can be used by media companies as well. Some combination of global and local works best to ensure that local nuances and cultural idiosyncrasies are considered and incorporated into content.

Herrmann also points to non-media industries that he believes do a good job of localizing global content—the travel and technology industries. “The technology industry and the travel industry, right now, are really at the forefront of global, not because they invest more, but because they do it in a different way. They know the world is complex, and they know they have to deliver simplicity. They don’t spend more. They don’t have more resources. They just embrace diversity and embrace localization from Day 1 and are actually more efficient in the way they deliver a local experience.”

It’s not as easy as it may sound. In fact, one of the big potential barriers that Abel points to is company brand and the brand managers who are charged with ensuring a consistent brand experience across all channels—and all markets. That, he says, is often not possible when globalizing content (as the opening examples illustrate).

“A focus on brand consistency makes the errors even more pronounced when they try to go global,” says Abel. “Do you really want it to be the same everywhere? I think there are a lot of lessons to be learned from technology communicators, translators, and localizers,” he says. Abel points to the LocWorld conference in Asia, Europe, and North America as a good source of best practice information and insights. The Localization Institute, he says, is another good resource that also offers online certification and training.

“You need a little bit of both people who are great at telling stories and people who are good at localizing stories to make sure they really resonate with audiences on the other end,” says Abel. This is true, he notes, whether translating content from the U.S. for consumption in France or translating content from France for consumption in the U.S. Ultimately, to successfully go global, media organizations must also go local.